“There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! In a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all.”
—Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these or preceding sections, join me by commenting here.
Last time, our ka-tet found and went through the door into Thunderclap, and were met by a trio of cowpokes who both recognized them and urged them to get to safety. The older of the three mistakes Jake for Bobby Garfield, of Hearts in Atlantis fame.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 5: Steek-Tete, Section 1
The older guy realizes the Jake is not Bobby Garfield, while one of the younger men urges them to get out of here. Ted asks Roland if he is, indeed, Roland of Gilead, but Ro and the others are still puking.
The young man is getting frantic. “If the Weasel is only the way with his taheen posse, he’ll be here in five minutes,” he tells them. “That cat can scramble.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, so the old dude is Ted Brautigan from Atlantis (which I wish a) I had liked more and b) had read more recently than 1999, when I had more viable brain cells. One of the young guys talks like a bad 1950s hipster, daddy-o.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 5: Steek-Tete, Section 2
The ka-tet follows their three new companions into what looks like a huge switching-yard, with automated engines still chugging along. Susannah’s still feeling queasy and can tell Eddie is as well.
Jake looks up and a glass-tiled ceiling, with many of them broken. The sky outside is a dark, ominous gray, “like a constant eclipse.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Wonder if this is a bit of foreshadowing: “So now [Susannah] knew what it was like to go through a scientific teleportation device that was clearly no longer working very well. She wondered if she would ever be able to bring herself to go through another one.”
We must be coming to a big section soon, because the story pace has slowed to the speed of an arthritic snail.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 5: Steek-Tete, Section 3
The group passes a bunch of old machinery, including train cars from all different eras—some that could’ve come from Susannah’s “when” and some from old western movies. They wind through a maze of machinery.
Ted urges them to hurry up and stop gawking. “If the taheen from Heartbreak House catch us, they’ll kill you.”
Ted leads them to a door marked “Shipping Office,” and it’s locked—something that seems to please him. He turns things over to Dinky, who grasps the knob, something inside snaps, and it unlocks. Once they go through, he locks it back.
Hurrying along, they go behind a counter where there are two dead robots and three skeletons, for which Ted has an explanation: “I believe that at one time [the Crimson King] covered this entire part of the world with poison gas. Probably for a lark…The darkness you see is the lingering result. He’s mad, of course.”
We learn that Dinky has set up a drone as a decoy so The Weasel will think that’s what went through the door into Fedic.
Ted points out a tall butte on the horizon, Can Steek-Tete, “the little needle,” and tells them that’s where they’re going. Susannah’s worried about anyone having to carry her that far, and wonders how they know they can trust these guys.
Ted tells them they’ll need to join hands, “like folks at a séance,” and visualize the rock formation so they can go through. When Eddie questions what kind of door they’ll be going through, before Ted assures them it won’t make them sick, Susannah sees Ted’s pupils are growing and shrinking rapidly, “as if they couldn’t decide if it was light or dark.”
They hear motors in the distance, and Ted tells them The Weasel’s approaching, and will have at least four taheen with him. “They don’t have to catch us but only catch sight of us,” he tells them.
Stanley still hasn’t spoken.
What Constant Reader Learns: Dinky, the youngest of Ted’s companions, notes that Ted is the only one “who’s indispensable.” Which again makes me wish I’d read Hearts in Atlantis sometime within the last twenty years, or at least that it had made a bigger impression on me.
Heartbreak House…Heartbreak Hotel…just sayin’.
So how do good guys, assuming Ted and Dinky and their silent friend Stanley are good guys, end up living in Thunderclap and know so much about the Crimson King? They are wayward Breakers, maybe?
Ted can either read Susannah’s mind or is gifted with the Touch himself—when she silently wonders about how they can carry her to the butte, Ted tells her she won’t need to be carried, but that Stanley can use her help. *Makes note to go back and read Hearts in Atlantis.*
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 5: Steek-Tete, Section 4
Off our group goes into a narrow, musty closet, which begins to make Jake claustrophobic… at least until Ted orders them to join hands and think of Steek-Tete. Almost immediately, the back wall of the closet disappears and in its place is a clearing beside the butte.
As Jake follows the others through the no-longer-there wall, he thinks briefly of CS Lewis and the wardrobe that led to Narnia.
What Constant Reader Learns: I suspect their destination will bear no resemblance to Narnia.
So, Dinky’s skill appears to be mechanical manipulation—i.e., the door locks—while Stanley’s is teleportation or mind-over-matter stuff. Makes sense if they are Breakers. Yet Ted is most valuable. So what is/was his skill?
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 5: Steek-Tete, Section 5
They arrive on the slope of the butte, where it’s cold. From a small cave behind them, Ted brings out blankets and a canteen. Off the butte, far below them now, there is the switching-yard with tracks leading in all directions. Jake notices that Stanley is staring at Roland with an expression he can’t quite read.
Below them, two ATVs arrive, probably carrying The Weasel and his taheen. Ted explains that there’s an alarm in the “Devar-Toi Supervisor’s” office that goes off when anyone uses the door between the station and the Fedic staging area. The supervisor, or Devar Master, is The Weasel, aka Prentiss, aka ki’dam, which roughly translates as “shit for brains.”
Next, Ted brings their attention to another sight: a dramatic bolt of sunlight breaking through the sagging clouds and lighting a compound that’s like an oasis in the middle of the Thunderclap barren lands. Eddie can see nice buildings like college dormitories, green lawns, a street lined with shops… “The perfect little Main Street America, except for one thing: in all directions it ended in dark and rocky desert.”
When Susannah looks at it through binoculars, she thinks of Greentown, Ray Bradbury’s idealized Illinois village. But it isn’t, of course. “That’s the Devar-Toi,” says Roland, and Dinky says they call it Algul Siento, or “Blue Heaven.” All the buildings have blue-tiled roofs. “Not Narnia,” Jake thinks, “but Blue Heaven. Where a bunch of folks were busy bringing about the end of the world. All the worlds.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie estimates that the oasis they’re seeing is about six miles from Thunderclap Station, but it’s only a guess: “There was no more north or south in this world, at least not what you could count on. Now there was only the Path of the Beam.”
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 5: Steek-Tete, Section 6
As they look out over Blue Heaven, Eddie lets a question slip out: “Why,” he asks Ted, “Does the Crimson King want to bring the Tower down?”
“He’s mad,” Ted replies. “Nuttier than a fruitcake.”
Ted tells them that the low men don’t need any more Breakers—they have enough to finish the job, just over 300 quartered in five dorms. When Susannah doesn’t understand why the Breakers don’t just mutiny, Dinky treats them to an account of Jim Jones and the mass suicide in Guyana. “They were confused and lonely and they thought Jim Jones was their friend,” Dinky says… “They had nothing left to go back to.”
The Breakers sound like a sad lot, and as Dinky’s telling them about it he refers to Stanley as an example of one who can’t talk. Roland doesn’t accept that: “I think he can talk,” he says, but doesn’t follow up right away because he wants to know if Ted and the others know what they’re being fed to increase their powers.
They don’t, although Ted has suspected it has to do with the kids they bring through the station. He says they give them dozens of pills a day and he has no way of knowing what they are. The three of them give a display of power as they face the devar-toi, causing the sunbeam to blink out for a few seconds.
Most of the power came from Stanley, Ted says—a powerful sender.
Ted decides he wants to know if they are cannibals—if they’re eating the children the “Greencloaks” bring from the borderlands, but no one will tell him. Regardless, he tells them, “this grotesque comedy” must come to an end. He promises to return the next day, if they’re able, and in the meantime he’s left the ka-tet with food and sleeping bags and a tape recorder and tapes to “fill in the blank spots.”
First, Roland has a couple of requests. He wants them to bring one of the Children of Roderick with them when they return—radiation-diseased “trustees” who live on the outskirts of the Algul and do grounds keeping work.
Roland also wants to talk to Stanley again. “ ‘Will’ee not look me in the face?’ Roland asked. He spoke with a gentleness Susannah had rarely heard in his voice. ‘Will’ee not, before you go, Stanley, son of Stanley? Sheemie that was?’” And we learn that this is, indeed, Sheemie, who responds, “Good old Will Dearborn.”
Sheemie has been blaming himself all these many years for Susan’s death, and Roland is able to place blame where it truly lies—with Rhea and maybe, to some degree, with himself. He’s able to give Sheemie the absolution he’s needed.
What Constant Reader Learns: We learn a few details about life in Algul Siento—the food is top-rate, there’s a new double-feature playing at the theater twice a week, or you can take DVDs home. “Astral sex” is a plus—Dinky has had “sim sex” with Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, and Nicole Kidman all in one week.” Limited alcohol. If the ka-tet wonders who Madonna and Nicole are, they don’t ask.
Ironic that all of this drama and goings-on is the result of a powerful god gone mad.
As long as Dinky is throwing out pop culture references our ka-tet doesn’t understand, he tosses one more—a funny one—when Jake is still agog that they don’t mutiny: “What do you know about what it’s like to spend your whole life on the outside,” he asks. “To be the butt of the joke every time, to always be Carrie at the…prom?” Eddie asks who Carrie is, but no one answers. Just as well, or they would’ve freaked out at another link to sai-King. Then again, they might not even be surprised.
Ah….Ted says he tried to escape once, and got all the way back to the spring of 1960, when the low men brought him back.
Sheemie!! I so did not see that coming!
This wasn’t a fast-moving chapter, but it did give us a lot of information. I’m anxious to hear what’s on those tapes. And I love the reappearance of Sheemie.
And…that’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of the final book of the Dark Tower saga.